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Why your hardwood floor may be buckling

Published on 01/14/2020, by Roy Akirov

Why your hardwood floor may be buckling Hardwood floors are an attractive feature in any home. Not only do they look absolutely amazing, but they’re also built to last and look good with any interior design scheme. Low-maintenance and resistant to fading, it’s little wonder that homeowners choose to invest in this premium flooring option. Unfortunately, various factors can cause hardwood floor buckling. Buckling occurs when the floorboards expand. If they can’t expand outwards, they push upwards, causing unevenness, instability and an unsightly appearance. If your floor starts to buckle, you will probably need professional assistance both to fix the damage and also to address the root cause of the problem, reducing the risk of a re-occurrence. Here we take a look at some of the reasons why your hardwood floor may be buckling and what you can do to resolve the issue.

What is buckling?

Because wood is a natural, organic material, it’s porous. This means that, should it come into contact with water, the water can be absorbed. Water absorption causes the wood to swell. Particularly if the wooden floor absorbs large quantities of water, the boards can swell so much they can no longer remain in alignment with each other. Because there is no room for the boards to expand laterally, they expand vertically instead. It is this vertical expansion which causes the boards to misalign, causing unwanted buckling. The problem can be made worse by wet boards which are subject to repeated temperature changes. The change in water volume in the board, due to the cycle of condensation and evaporation, can further warp and weaken the wood, creating further buckling and floor deterioration.

Water damage is a key reason for hardwood floor buckling

It’s fairly obvious that if your hardwood floor has been submerged in water, buckling is likely. In addition to natural flood water, floods from a leaking washing machine, plumbing leak or burst pipe can also mean that your floor ends up wet. The longer the water is allowed to lie on the boards, the higher the risk of buckling.

In addition to flooding, there are a number of other ways in which moisture can be introduced into the boards. If a hardwood floor is located in a room with high humidity, the risk of warping is increased. This is why a hardwood floor is rarely seen in a kitchen or bathroom – traditionally areas where humidity is high at certain times. Humidity may also be high due to living in a naturally warm, humid climate (such as on the west coast). Even homes with appropriate climate control may find that, over time, their wooden floor begins to warp.

As well as atmospheric humidity, water may also be introduced onto the floor through unsuitable cleaning methods. Ideally, a hardwood floor requires nothing more than a sweep and a mop with a tightly wrung mop – see our cleaning guide. It’s recommended that the floor is dried after washing, using either a dry mop or a cloth. If pools of water are left on the floor to dry naturally, the water may well simply absorb into the wood.

Poor installation may be to blame for hardwood floor buckling

Although some of the reasons for buckling are beyond the control of the installer, good installation can help to alleviate many causes. Here are just some of the common installation faults which can lead to buckling:

  • A poor surface on which the flooring is laid. From insufficient attention being paid to the material which underlies the floor, through to flooring being applied whilst under layers of screed aren’t completely dry, there are several sub-surface errors which can lead to moisture entering the boards from beneath. Over time, this can cause buckling in exactly the same way as if water soaked through from the upper surface of the board.
  • Insufficient allowance for movement. Even if a hardwood floor doesn’t get flooded and is appropriately located, a certain level of humidity in a home is natural and healthy. This means that any wooden flooring will be likely to a degree of contraction and expansion, as water levels in the wood alter due to temperature changes. A skilled fitter will have allowed for this during the floor construction. If the boards have been packed together too tightly, they may well buckle as there is no room for lateral expansion.
  • Insufficiently proven wood. Once a tree is felled, the timber is usually left to season for a period of time. This process results in a considerable amount of moisture evaporating from the timber, making it harder and more suitable for use as construction material. Where wood hasn’t been seasoned correctly (greenwood), the percentage of water remaining in it can be much higher. This means that, once fitted, a hardwood floor made of green wood already contains a damaging amount of water. Even if correctly laid and cared for properly, greenwood will soon buckle.
    – Poor choice of (or no) top coating. A protective, transparent top coat can help to protect a hardwood floor, without detracting from its appearance. Clearly a floor with limited or no protection is extremely vulnerable to the damage which excess moisture can cause.

How to reduce the risk of a buckled hardwood floor

  • Locate the flooring in climate-controlled rooms if possible. Avoid rooms where there are extremes of temperature or where humidity is high.
  • Source the timber for your floor with care. Use a reputable supplier or supplier/installer.
  • Use a professional installer to optimise the chances of a good installation. Check they have the experience and skills necessary to give you the results you deserve. During the initial consultation, check that they have a robust plan for preparing the surface below the boards.
  • Take care of your floor! Don’t site appliances on it which are likely to flood. Correct cleaning is also important. Keep water to a minimum during cleaning and don’t forget to dry the floor after mopping.

risk reduction

If you’ve discovered hardwood floor buckling, prompt professional attention can stop it from getting worse as well as rectify the damage. Get in touch to find out more about how we can help with hardwood floor buckling today.

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